(2) Reflections On “Evil And Theodicy” by Laura W. Ekstrom (2023) part 2 of Background Context

Cambridge Elements on Evil and Theodicy (Part 2)

So, as I said I’m going to be looking at the new Cambridge Elements on Evil and Theodicy, which can be found here:   https://www.cambridge.org/core/elements/evil-and-theodicy/DA130EC897206FE01DFFE914329BD507  (sorry I forgot to link to it last time).  Do download it before it is removed.

Moral judgments/evaluations are the same as other such evaluations in other areas and refer to objective criteria.  So, for instance, wine judging can reliably be done according to criteria such as color, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, aftertaste, and overall quality.  These may not be meaningful to someone who hates the taste of wine, but such subjective bracketing in no way invalidates the objectivity of the criteria.  And so, a majority of experts will apply the criteria similarly: Baby Duck Red Wine will not get a high score! Similarly, a teacher may evaluate a piece of narrative writing according to the criteria of 6+1 Traits of Writing: Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency.  Two teachers may come to different evaluations of a narrative piece applying these criteria, but this doesn’t change the objectivity of the criteria.  The same is true of moral judgments and their criteria.

Classical moral theory has always shipwrecked on the negative element because while it is easy to identify a general rule for acting nice or friendly, the problem with coming up with a similar rule identifying bad behavior is problematic because some act can be a great good to one person, and a terrible evil to another (eg., 9’11; The Romans feeding thee Christians to the lions; etc).  What is helpful in a biology of ethics is that we understand prosocial behavior follows from evolution (a species does better when the individual members cooperate), and so morality follows on both the negative and positive sides: (i) Good behavior is akin to being a good friend; (ii) Bad behavior is being a bad friend. 

Without such a context “good” and “bad” qualifiers/quantifiers shipwreck on the shore of ambiguity because, as Nietzsche showed, more fundamental than being a “good” or nice person is being a “good” bird of prey (for instance), and so we get Nietzsche’s argument for Slave morality: that out of a spirit of revenge the traits of the slave such as meekness obedience and poverty are valued positively, and the master values of dominance, wealth and war are demonized (eg Jesus’ statement about the camel and the rich person / the eye of the needle).  Fortunately, seeing ethics through the lens of friendship resolves Nietzsche’s thrown gauntlet:  The ethical standard that action should be evaluated against are the criteria of Universal Human Rights: These universal rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. They range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health, and liberty.  These follow directly from a biology preferring prosocial cooperation and correcting being a bad friend. Societies may not respect these criteria (eg forced burkas and denying women education; denying LGBTQ+ Rights, etc), but such disrespect of human rights all the more powerfully demonstrate the objectivity of the criteria, analogous to someone intentionally harming a child, which not only demonstrates their depravity, but further un-covers (aletheia in Greek) the special regard children “should” have because harming a child is worse than harming an adult, and extra punishment is deserved because children are our/society’s extra special little friends.

So, next time, I will begin examining the question of Evil and Theodicy in the new Cambridge Elements text.